Over the past few decades substantial improvements have been made in treatment of cancer, while it’s still not possible to say that humans have finally cured cancer, work still continues in the hope that some day we will be able to achieve this aim. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has now approved the first cancer-killing virus, called talimogene laherparepvec or T-VEC (brand name Imlygic) the virus has been created to seek and destroy the cells that cause advanced melanoma skin cancer.
It hasn’t really been that easy to create a virus that specifically targets cancerous cells without harming their healthy counterparts even though scientists have known for quite some time now that it is possible to fight cancer with viruses. Amgen, a biotech firm, is behind talimogene laherparepvec and while this particular treatment may only be modestly effective it does prove a point and may serve as the stepping stone to improved methods of treating cancer in the future.
Talimogene laherparepvec or Imlygic is a live oncolytic herpes virus that has been modified, the genetic code of this virus has been significantly modified so that it doesn’t harm healthy cells while eliminating cancerous melanoma in lymph nodes and in the skin.
Virus particles are injected in a melanoma lesion where they invade the cell and essentially take over the cellular machinery leading the cell to rupture. It even aids in increasing production of GM-CSF a protein which increases the body’s immune response so that it fights back strongly.
Don’t think that this virus will be an instant cure for melanoma though, a clinic study conducted with 436 patients showed that the virus was only able to extend survival by 4.4 months in patients that had advanced melanoma. That’s not a significant improvement but doctors are of the view that when combined with other treatments the virus could have a bigger impact.
Affordability will also be a problem for patients looking for the modest life extension that Imlygic alone offers, at $65,000 it won’t be helping millions of melanoma patients across the globe, but as a proof-of-concept it works quite well at this point in time.